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ESCC seeks major amendments to BHLR plan

ESCC applies to itself to make changes to its BHLR plans and Sea Change Sussex reveals phase one of its North-East Bexhill development project, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick.

In the past few days, opponents of the road have become aware of seven significant planning applications concerning the BHLR, submitted by ESCC to itself. This will bring them outside the scope of the Town and Country Planning Act, according to a representative of the Bexhill anti-road group, BLINKRR.

“The recently agreed funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) is based upon the works in those seven applications being non-material amendments (NMAs) and the council not having to revise the planning application,” said BLINKRR, “so obviously the council is very keen to ensure that the amendments are treated as non-material. If they are considered to be material, they will be subject to referral back to the DfT.

“Any objective person would find it is very, very difficult to conclude that the amendments are non-material, as they amount to about 20% of the cost of the road, i.e. about £22 million. These are significant material changes – including eliminating a flood storage tank and pumping  station, deleting an over-bridge, deleting a dedicated bus lane, deleting a crossing for pedestrians and cyclists and replacing an equestrian bridge with a ford.

“Apart from the arguable loss of benefits and possible increase of risk brought about by these ‘non-material amendments,’  the council is trying to sneak through big changes to the proposed scheme to avoid full and proper consultation and legitimate public debate.”

According to the Economy, Transport and Environment Department of ESCC, the amendments were submitted on 26 November 2012, under section 96A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

They state: “It should be stressed that NMAs are not an application for planning permission and in determining such applications, the Government’s guidance document entitled Greater Flexibility for Planning Permissions is taken into account.  The guidance indicates that there is no definition as to what amounts to a ‘non-material’ amendment because the judgment is dependent on the context of the overall development – what may be non-material in one context may be material in another. This is essentially a planning judgment for the local planning authority and the council must satisfy itself that the amendment sought is ‘non-material’ before it grants any approval for the NMA.”

The changes to the plan can be viewed here.

Responses and objections need to be registered as soon as possible. For more information, suggestions and ideas, see the Combe Haven Defenders’ website link here and here to read more about the amendments and what they mean.

Gateway Road and business park development plans

At a series of meetings, John Shaw, chief executive of Sea Change Sussex (previously Sea Space of which John Shaw was also the chief executive), along with his Surrey-based PR company, TK Associates, has outlined proposals and answered questions about the planned ‘Gateway Road’ and the ‘Bexhill Innovation Mall’ business park, the first incremental step in the wider development of North-East Bexhill through to 2028.

Gateway Road would begin at St Mary’s School on Wrestwood Road and join the Bexhill Hastings Link Road at a roundabout, with an additional junction heading north-west to another business park development planned for land currently owned by Trinity College, Cambridge. A further three junctions along the route will provide future access roads to other industrial and residential sites.

Shaw made it clear that as yet, planning permission had not been obtained and so nothing could be 100% confirmed. His Gateway Road application will be submitted in the next month, followed in the summer by the application for the ‘Bexhill Innovation Mall’. Shaw said this would be the “first digestible bite” in the much wider development plan.

Although Sea Change Sussex is not involved in the development of housing, the number of houses to be built between Pebsham and Sidley was disputed at the meeting I attended as an opponent of the road, with various numbers quoted ranging from 1,300 to 5,000. “Jobs and employment come first,” said Shaw. He estimated that the number of houses would be around 1,300; however, local residents who have been involved in consultation meetings spoke about figures of 4-5,000.

The number of jobs was also disputed. In the publicity leaflet drop, sent to 2,000 local residents, (although not included in the email invitation sent separately to opponents of the plans), it states that the developments “would deliver up to 3,000 jobs to the area.”  This figure has been suggested by ESCC, but disputed by the DfT in its assessment report, which suggested 900 jobs were more likely.

Using presentation plans of the planned access road and business park, John Shaw explained that The Mount, an underground reservoir on a hill to the north of Wrestwood Road, would shield residents from light or noise pollution from the business park. However, local residents had told me that the land south of The Mount, currently green fields backing onto their houses on Wrestwood Road, was also to be used for the development of industrial sites and housing. I asked Shaw about this and he said that he had an option on this land too, but as yet there were no decisions about its development.

Asked if public money was to be used, Shaw said that a number of funding options were available, including public funds, but it would not be Sea Change Sussex’s responsibility to reveal their funding sources. This would be the responsibility of the funding body.

Climate change, environmental and drainage issues were also discussed, along with the lack of public transport provision in an area where car ownership is one of the lowest in the country, social equity and the financial problems of previous Sea Space projects, Lacuna Park and The Enviro Park.

Sea Change Sussex published an overview of the NE Bexhill plan on its website last week, allowing only until Monday 22 April for people to respond with comments. But it will also be possible to respond to the planning application which is expected to be submitted within the next month.

Redacted Department of Transport report

Last week BHLR opponents peacefully queued outside the DfT, requesting the information withheld from the ‘Recommendations’ section of the department’s  report. As a result of this action, journalist Neil Pringle of BBC Sussex Breakfast Show interviewed Peter Jones, leader of ESCC, asking about this document.

Peter Jones said that campaigners were likely “to dig up some piece of material usually from the early days of the project, before it was fully developed and try and use that to undermine our case.” When Pringle pursued the issue further, stating that the report rated the road as low to medium value for money, Jones replied : “We’ve certainly not seen that.”

The DfT’s report dates from March 2012, having been published a few days prior to the George Osborne’s funding announcement in the Budget. The report can be read here.

The Combe Haven Defenders wrote to Peter Jones about his lack of knowledge of the report. See their email and his reply here.

For other HOT articles on this topic, please type ‘Bexhill Hastings Link Road’ into our search engine.

 

Posted 07:50 Tuesday, Apr 16, 2013 In: Campaigns

4 Comments

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  1. Chris Cormack

    Yes Erica, I have read the Guardian article with interest and agree that it throws in question the value for money arguments made for road building. However, remembering how poorly managed the state-owned businesses used to be, I would back the judgement of local businessmen any day over that of a Whitehall mandarin, when it comes to business decisions.

    Freiburg in Germany, where 10,000 renewable energy jobs were created, is well known to me – I studied there in the sixties and some of my late wife’s family still live there; my son lived and worked there for a couple of years recently. It is a prosperous university town more comparable with Cambridge than Hastings. When Freiburg University wants to build a science park and create jobs, I am sure, as with Cambridge University, they just need to click their fingers and the local authority will build a road for them to connect the science park with the town.

    Value for money hardly comes into it because it is taken for granted that 1000s of jobs will be created and the towns will benefit from more rates income and from the generally increased levels of prosperity. Does this mean that all the infrastructure spending should be concentrated in the Freiburgs and Cambridges where there is clearly ‘value for money’? Just because it is more difficult to create a job in Hastings than in Cambridge, should we starve Hastings of infrastructure spending and let the jobless move to London or Cambridge instead?

    Ironically, I understand it is an Oxbridge college that owns the land where the BHLR is to be built. When it comes to value for money, an important consideration should be that public spending in infrastructure benefits first and foremost the landowners in the vicinity – should we not find a way of getting the beneficiary to contribute to the cost? Is this not a more important way of achieving ‘value for money’?

    All land values are publicly created values and if the economic rent of land were taxed, then the imbalances of prosperity between Cambridge and Hastings, or Germany and Greece would be evened out in an equitable fashion that did not interfere with the workings of free market economics.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Saturday, May 4, 2013 @ 12:59

  2. Erica Smith

    Chris, perhaps you should read this link!
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/local-government-network/2013/apr/19/job-creation-road-infrastructure

    Comment by Erica Smith — Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013 @ 08:04

  3. DAR

    The whole road and housing development plan is nothing short of environmental vandalism. This area already has too many people and traffic in it, and the policy – purportedly for “jobs” – is short-termism on a grand scale. The construction of so many houses will only lead to a massive increase in traffic on the BHLR which will clog up The Ridge – incidentally where Hastings Borough Council plans to build upwards of another 300 houses, at least, including Harrow Lane Playing Fields. In the future, developers will probably demand link roads for the Link Road, and more houses, until all our green space is obliterated. Pass the brown envelope, old chap!

    Comment by DAR — Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013 @ 23:04

  4. Chris Cormack

    I admit that the the response of Peter Jones to Combe Haven Defenders (CHD) has been somewhat po-faced and questionable – how could he doubt the authenticity of the Department for Transport (DfT) letter? Maybe he has been worn down by the years of protest from people who seem to have no other purpose in life than to object to each and every new road proposal regardless of merit.

    My contention is still that the protestors are being disingenuous in claiming that the DfT recommended against the road – with the only basis for this being that the recommendation was redacted. There is ample evidence in the public domain that the DfT are in favour of the road and its regenerative benefits. The DfT inspector, CJ Tipping, wrote a 107 page document on the DfT conclusions about the BHLR after considering the CHD’s case in minute detail. None of his reasons to recommend in favour of proceeding with the BHLR was contradicted in the DfT letter on which CHD depends to contend that the road is proceeding without DfT approval.

    I recommend people read pages 84-88 of

    http://assets.dft.gov.uk/publications/bexhill-to-hastings-link-road/inspector-report.pdf

    if they really want to understand the DfT case for the regenerative benefits of the BHLR.

    On Page 84 – 10.2.5 , it states that – “Many objectors point out that there can be no certainty that the BHLR would produce the regeneration benefits claimed for it, while the adverse
    impacts of the BHLR are certain and unavoidable. It is of course true that the benefits claimed for the BHLR are based on predictions to which varying degrees of probability can be attached, and I bear this in mind in the ensuing consideration of the regeneration case.” He then proceeds to accept:
    1) the case that there is deprivation in Hastings and Bexhill;
    2) the BHLR is an indispensable part of local plans for regeneration;
    3) the submission from local businessmen and the East Sussex County Council that there is no adequate alternative to their regeneration proposals put forward by objectors (or anyone else); and
    4) the benefits of the BHLR outweigh the costs, actual and environmental.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Tuesday, Apr 16, 2013 @ 18:35

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